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Patent law in a nutshell – What is a patent?

Anyone who founds an innovative start-up may have to apply for a patent to protect his ideas from imitators. Find out in the article what exactly a patent is, how it works and what it does for you.

Swiss patent law is governed by the Federal Act on Patents for Inventions (PatA) and the associated Ordinance on Patents for Inventions (PatV).

Protection for technical inventions

A patent is an intellectual property right for a technical invention. It is intended to prevent novel inventions from being copied by imitators. The patent grants the inventor the right to use his invention for commercial purposes (Art. 8 PatA). Only if an innovative person is granted exclusive rights of the use for his invention he has an interest in sharing it with the world. A patent allows him to determine who may manufacture and sell his invention. For example, if Novartis is developing a new drug, the Basel-based company will only want to share the composition of the patent if it is certain that Roche and Co. cannot simply copy the drug. After all, Novartis had high research and development costs, which are expected to be amortized through the sale of the new drug. If there is no prospect of future profits, the company has no interest at all in researching new cures.

Commercialisation of the idea

The patent law therefore grants the inventor an exclusive right of use for a certain period of time and in return he shares his idea with the public. The duration of protection under Swiss patent law is 20 years (Art. 14 PatA). During this period, skilled persons may study, copy and develop the manufacturing process and the functioning of the invention. After the 20 years have passed, other manufacturers can put the product on the market. This leads to competition on the market and a reduction in prices. In the pharmaceutical market, for example, generics come onto the market after patent protection has expired; these are usually much cheaper than the original product.

Patent law therefore has various functions. It provides an incentive to research new inventions at all (incentive function) and to market them (commercialisation function). It also serves to make innovative inventions publicly known (information function).

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